Hong Kong will further ease Covid-19 social distancing measures this week, raising the limit on restaurant diners from four to six per table while that for bars and pubs will rise from two to four on Friday.
But the four-person maximum limit on public gatherings, which pan-democrats allege is a pretext for curbing protests, will remain unchanged.
The new regulations announced by Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan on Tuesday will come into force on Friday, the day of Halloween festivities, and last until the following Thursday.
Bar and pub patrons must wear a mask when not eating or drinking at their table. Dine-in services will be allowed to operate until 2 am rather than midnight previously.
Facemasks will no longer be required in indoor fitness centres. Indoor venues, including performance venues, swimming pools, skating rinks and nightclubs will be allowed to fill 75 per cent of their capacity. Public beaches are to be reopened next Tuesday.
Chan urged people to stick to the new regulations, stressing that “cooperation and self-discipline of the public is key” to curbing further infections. “I appeal to the public to remain vigilant, observe good personal hygiene and comply with arrangements.”
New travel arrangements
The government announced Tuesday morning it was considering exempting travellers from mainland China from the 14-day mandatory quarantine period if they can show negative Covid-19 test results.
Chan said the situation on the mainland has “stabilised for quite some time” and inbound travellers from there pose a low risk.
Chan also announced that Belgium would be added to the list of 14 countries from which travellers must observe a stricter 14-day quarantine period in hotels, rather than at home. The new arrangements will be in force from next Tuesday. Other countries on the list include the UK, France, the US, Pakistan and India.
Foreign tourists are currently banned in Hong Kong, while the government has made some exceptions for inbound travellers for commercial or diplomatic purposes. The government has announced plans for a travel bubble with Singapore set to begin next month.
Europe has been facing a new wave of infections, with infection rates in the UK reaching over 20,000 cases on Monday. Commenting on the “severe” pandemic situation abroad, Chan said “we cannot afford to drop our guard.”
Four-person gathering limit
Asked to explain why parties of six of six would be allowed in restaurants while the four-person public gathering limit remained, Chan said the measures were “reasonable” and intended to “meet the needs of the public, the economy and employment levels.”
“Every relaxation of social distancing measures come with risks,” the Secretary for Food and Health said. “It’s important we don’t relax all measures immediately. We consider the risks and we will continue to monitor and make the necessary and appropriate adjustments.”
The four person limit has been criticised by pro-democracy figures as a politically motivated decision to deprive citizens of their right to demonstrate. Groups of activists demanding the release of the Hong Kong 12 last Friday were fined for breaching the public gathering limit.
Hong Kong reported five imported cases and no local infections on Tuesday, raising the city’s total number of infections to 5,308, with 105 deaths.
Correction 1/11: Owing to an editing error, a previous version of this article’s headline stated that beaches reopen on Friday, as opposed to next Tuesday.